Rincon Creek (left); Sonoran Desert scrub with Tanque Verde ridge in the background (right). Photograph by Greg Levandowski.
This report summarizes the results of the first comprehensive inventory of plants and vertebrates at the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) of Saguaro National Park, Arizona. From 2001 to 2003 we surveyed for vascular plants and vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) at the district to document the presence of species within its boundaries. Park staff also surveyed for medium and large mammals using infrared-triggered cameras from 1999 to 2005. This report summarizes the methods and results of these two efforts. Our spatial sampling design was ambitious and was one of the first of its kind in the region to colocate study sites for vegetation and vertebrates using a stratified random design. We also chose the location of some study sites non-randomly in areas that we thought would have the highest species richness. Because we used repeatable study designs and standardized field methods, these inventories can serve as the first step in a biological monitoring program for the district. We also provide an important overview of most previous survey efforts in the district. We use data from our inventory and other surveys to compile species lists and to assess inventory completeness.
With the exception of plants, our survey effort was the most comprehensive ever undertaken in the district. We recorded a total of 801 plant and vertebrate species, including 50 species not previously found in the district (Table 1) of which five (all plants) are non-native species. Based on a review of our inventory and past research at the district, there have been a total of 1,479 species of plants and vertebrates found there. We believe inventories for all taxonomic groups are nearly complete. In particular, the plant, amphibian and reptile, and mammal species lists are the most complete of any comparably large natural area of the “sky island” region of southern Arizona and adjacent Mexico.
For each taxon-specific chapter we discuss patterns of species richness and environmental determinants of these patterns. For all groups except medium and large mammals, the low elevation stratum (<4,000 feet) contained the highest species richness, after accounting for differences in survey effort among strata. This is consistent with known patterns of species richness in the sky island mountain ranges. Using data on relative abundance for plants and birds, we were able to identify a number of distinct ecological communities, which were consistent with known patterns in the sky islands.
Our review of species lists and park records reveals that the district has lost species, particularly plants and mammals, in the past few decades. Because of the districtís close proximity to the rapidly growing city of Tucson, there are a number of development-related threats that could cause additional species loss or decline in abundance of some species. In particular, the increasing groundwater pumping near Rincon Creek, the most species-rich area in the park, is likely to impact the unique riparian vegetation and animals of that area. We discuss this and other demands on the ecological integrity of the district. We also recommend additional inventory, monitoring, and research studies
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